New state park dates to 1860s: ODNR restores Lonz Winery on Middle Bass Island
The wine-making and grape-production heritage of the Lake Erie Islands is remembered at Ohio’s newest state park on Middle Bass Island.
The grand opening in June by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources unveiled the restoration and preservation of historic Lonz Winery. The winery’s 150-year-old wine cellars are open for the first time to park visitors since being restored and are to be open every weekend this summer.
The newest part of the state park actually is an expansion of the park that opened in March 2001. The park has been a work in progress since it opened. It now explores the history of the island along with providing scenic views of Lake Erie, a campground, marina and other activities.
The islands once were the largest producer of wine in the United States. For more than a century, visitors traveled by boat from Detroit, Cleveland and even Buffalo to dance in the pavilions and visit the island.
When a terrace full of people collapsed in July 2000, the winery closed.
During the following winter and spring, ODNR acquired the Lonz property. State and local people discussed options to repair and use the property for public use.
“Visitors will experience the culmination of years of work on the island, including environmental remediation and shoring up the structure to ensure it stands for generations to come,” said Eric Heis, ODNR public information officer. “A lot of people have gone (to visit) who went previously in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. It was a day-trip kind of place, people would go to hang out at the winery.”
ODNR saved much of the original structure, including the cellars, the iconic Lonz Winery façade and the tower. Much of the upper levels could not be salvaged, but the footprint of the building is being utilized as a large patio that features views of Lake Erie and Put-In-Bay.
“We took out the winery deck area and have just one big pavilion,” Heis said. “It goes over the cellars.”
The five historical cellars are open for tours.
“One of them dates back to 1863,” Heis said. “They contain local artifacts.”
Among the artifacts are tables that were “personalized” by winery patrons.
“We saved a lot of the tables people have carved their names into,” he said. “That was a thing then.”
The tables now can be found on display in the cellars, and people can find the names they carved.
“We have tons of the huge wine barrels,” he said. “We’re still putting together more artifacts.”
Additional completed projects include a pavilion with tables and a fireplace, flush restrooms and multi-use trails.
Heis said signage has been added to the park to educate people about the history of the island, the winery and its founder.
ODNR also redeveloped a marina, originally built in the 1960s, to include seasonal dockage, a harbor master building, a gas station and a new boat launch ramp. The marina has more than 180 slips — some for rent and some for day use. Overnight dockage is available May 1 through Oct. 15.
“The harbor master building was a built a few years ago,” Heis said.
The park officers bike rentals for touring the island, and a private company offers golf cart rentals.
There also are kayaks and paddleboards available for rent as well as horseshoe pits, and cornhole and ladder ball games.
Twenty non-electric camp sites are available for use May 1 through Oct. 15. Each site has a fire ring and a picnic table, and vehicles must remain in designated paved parking spaces. Showers and water are provided in the harbor master building.
To get to Middle Bass Island, Heis said, ferry service from the mainland is available through Miller Boatline from Catawba Point or on the Sonny S ferry from South Bass Island — aka Put-in-Bay. Vehicles can be taken to the island by Miller ferry with advanced reservations.
Heis said Middle Bass is known to be quieter than South Bass Island.
“North Bass is also a state park,” he said. “There are still some vineyards there that are run by Firelands Winery.”
He said Firelands Winery owns the Lonz brand and offers Lonz wines for sale.
“The old press house is half finished,” he said. “It will be finished soon.”
ODNR is looking to partner with a private company to offer refreshments, and possibly a restaurant and catering, at the park, he said.
“It’ll be similar to the partnerships with lodges at other parks,” he said. ODNR owns the land and the lodges but contract with a private company to operate them.
“We’d encourage people to go visit,” Heis said. “It’s a half-hour ferry ride off the mainland.”
If you want to go …
The park’s address is 1719 Fox Road, Middle Bass Island, OH 43446. But for more information, contact East Harbor State Park, 1169 N. Buck Road, Lakeside-Marblehead, OH 43440, or call the park office in season at (419) 285-0311. For dock reservations May 1-Oct 15, call (419) 285-0311, or for camping reservations, call (866) 644-6727.
Visit the Middle Bass ODNR website at parks.ohiodnr.gov/
middlebassisland#nearby or Facebook pages – www.facebook.com/middlebass or www.facebook.com/pages/
For maps and interative photos, visit parks.ohiodnr.gov/
Portals/parks/PDFs/parks/Maps/MBI/middlebassparkmap.pdf and parks.ohiodnr.gov/middlebassislandmedia.